A grim view of the NHLPA and where the NHL is headed

If you haven’t gotten to following the New York Post’s Larry Brooks by now, it’s tough to say you’re keeping tabs on the NHL very closely. Ever since the NHL stepped up to challenge the NHLPA over Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract, Brooks has been the lone voice amongst team scribes to express what a dire situation this is for the players association. In his column today, he again picks up his journalistic drumsticks and continues the drum beat declaring doom and gloom on the horizon for the NHL and its players this time based around the NHLPA quibbling over attorney costs to fight the Kovalchuk grievance.

Indeed, Slap Shots has learned that union front-office personnel, including Fehr, expressed concern over the cost of attorneys’ fees in the Kovalchuk arbitration before turning to John McCambridge, a Saskin loyalist, who had been part of the 2004-05 negotiating committee but had not been involved in union business in years and who was no match at all for the estimable Bob Batterman, the league’s Crosby/Ovechkin among its stable of all-star lawyers.

It is stunning that Fehr was unable to recognize that the price of victory would be nothing compared to the cost of defeat. It is outrageous that the union would have quibbled over the equivalent of pennies when weighed against the nullification of a $102 million contract of one of its dues-paying, escrow-contributing marquee members.

It is, however, indicative of the headless operation that seems simply to be awaiting the slaughter in the next round of collective bargaining two years hence.

This is what happens when the union spends its resources looking behind and fighting old battles instead of preparing for the future and a new engagement against an all-powerful commissioner who remains ruthlessly committed to his vision of a hard-cap, lowest-common-denominator league.

Cold, harsh words from a writer who is very easily the biggest supporter of the NHLPA in all of the media. While we understand that talking about a potentially ugly labor war two years away from it happening may not be fun to read, nor may it be all that engaging, it’s better to have the discussion out there. Even though it’s a case of millionaires squabbling with billionaires over a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money, it cuts to the heart of the matter that this is a sport we all enjoy watching that gets spoiled by wealthy folks fighting over who gets more money and the only people that lose in a labor war are the fans.

After all, it was the fans that missed out watching hockey back in 2004-2005 when the owners locked out the players to crush them in labor negotiations and when they settled on things a year and half later, the fans were promised ticket price rollbacks and all sorts of other things to win them over again. While the game has again been made enjoyable to watch thanks to the league mostly adhering to its own rule book again, making the game cost friendly for fans never came. Ticket prices stayed the same or went up dramatically, the cost of merchandise is higher than it ever was and all this goes on while North America has dealt with an economic crunch that leaves regular folks with less flexible income. Yet here the fans are making sure that attendance is as good as it ever was for the most part. Perhaps we all deserve each other so let’s just forget about that potential labor war in 2012 and just feel free to call each other suckers instead.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.